Christian Becksvoort’s Shaker Inspiration

Becksvoort’s latest book covers three major topics: woodworking fundamentals, business practice for a running a small shop, and furniture in the Shaker style.

            As a long-time reader of Christian Becksvoort’s work, I awaited my pre-ordered copy of Shaker Inspiration: Five Decades of Fine Craftsmanship with some anticipation. It did not disappoint. In it, Becksvoort covers three majors topics: woodworking fundamentals, the business of woodworking, and building in the Shaker style. I was most interested in the last section, but each part offers something for new and experienced woodworkers.  Perhaps the most intriguing part of the fundamentals section was Becksvoort’s discussion of wood movement and the painstaking steps he takes to accommodate it in his commissions. The wide-ranging advice for making a business out of woodworking covers the pratical considerations of setting up shop as well as those activities often overlooked in such an endeavor—creating a business plan, marketing, outsourcing, etc—and offers a solid introduction, though anyone not dissuaded after reading will want to further explore the subject before taking the plunge. Readers familiar with Becksvoort’s work in Fine Woodworking will recognize many of the author’s designs featured in part three, though here they are neatly encapsulated by illustrations, pithy commentary, and measured drawings. I find Becksvoort’s signature piece, a fifteen-drawer chest, and his reinterpretation of a Hancock village shelf especially appealing. Seven reproductions and a survey of original Shaker pieces (primarily from Mt. Lebanon, Sabbathday Lake, and Hancock villages) round out the section. Shaker Inspirations is a delight to hold as well as to read, the team at Lost Art Press demonstrating its usual care and attention to book design and production. Like the Shaker work which inspired it, Shaker Inspirations pairs form and function to create a delightful whole.

Shaker Inspirations is available for  purchase from Lost Art Press.

Arctic Tern – Joining Planks

Fiberglass tape and epoxy join lengths of plywood to form planks
Marine-grade okoume plywood is pre-saturated with epoxy before joining the planks.

The first step in building a stitch and glue kit is to join shorter lengths of plywood into longer planks using fiberglass tape and epoxy. I began by pre-saturating the plywood with epoxy. There’s an ongoing online debate on whether pre-saturation is worth it, but I took the cautious approach in the hope of avoiding dry spots when fiberglassing the hull. Following Ted Moores’ Kayaks You Can Build, I only applied the tape to the insides of the planks. Omitting the tape on the outside eliminates the risk of a subtle bulge at the joint. Moving the planks around required a little extra caution, but reduction in effort and improved appearance is worth it.

Pygmy Boats Arctic Tern

The Pygmy Boats Arctic Tern is a hard-chined boat.

I’ve been contemplating a kayak build since almost as soon as I bought a second-hand plastic tandem. The tandem was adequate for my needs–low=key paddles in local waters with my son, but it handled poorly and was 70 pounds. A key selling point for stitch-and-glue kits is their relatively light weight–~40 pounds vs. 60 for a single-seat plastic boat. Other projects intervened, and by the time I was ready to build, a local kit maker, Pygmy Boats, had closed, one more victim of COVID-related uncertainties.

I’d given up on on building a new boat and settled for finding something second-hand, when a search turned up an unfinished kit being sold nearby. It had sat unopened in a garage for 18 years and was in decent shape except for a cracked bottle of epoxy hardener. It had leaked onto some components, the biggest victim a stained length of fiberglass. Since the plywood looked to be in good shape, so I did some light haggling and took the kit home. Hopefully it takes less than 18 years to assemble.

Woodworking Magazine Back in Print

Issue 2 of Woodworking Magazine features a Shaker-inspired end table. Popular Woodworking has re-issued the first 8 volumes of the magazine.

While I occasionally buy single issues of woodworking magazine on the newsstand, the only one I’ve ever subscribed to is Woodworking Magazine. Organized around a theme, each issue formed a cohesive whole with great techniques and projects. I was sad to see it fold in 2009. Popular Woodworking has re-printed the first eight issues, and they’re now available on Amazon. While I enjoyed every issue, I especially like issues 2, 3, and 4. I built a modified version of the Roubo-style bench featured in issue 4, and I’ve written before about the Stickley magazine stand from issue 3 and Shaker-inspired side table from issue 2.

A Minor Prairie-Style Mystery

A small fragment of a Popular Mechanics cover contains the image of a prairie style house.
The reverse of a Popular Mechanics cover fragment contained an intriguing prairie-style house.

I recently dismantled our chimney as part of our basement renovation. Opening walls and floors hasn’t surfaced any Goonies treasure maps or confederate dollars–to date the most memorable items have been a site-made marking gauge, eye-searing linoleum, depression era-newspapers, and a hundred-year-old apple core–but this most recent demolition did turn up a fragment of an old Popular Mechanics cover. I probably wouldn’t have paid it any attention, but the inside of the cover featured a photo of a two-story Prairie-style home which piqued my curiosity. The cover provided a month, but no year. Based on the style of house, I thought I’d have at most a couple of decades of Popular Mechanics to check. I like Google Books, the Hathitrust digital library, and Internet Archive for this kind of archival research. As someone who spent a lot of time as an undergraduate and grad student in library stacks, there’s a luxury to being able to sift through old volumes from the comfort of my couch.

Continue reading

A New Garden Border

If the number of recent landscaping projects in the neighborhood is any indicator, our current pandemic has been good for nurseries. We’ve been considering expanding the plantings in front with the addition of a new strip along the front sidewalk, and it seemed like a good, manageable project after the many months I’ve spent on the basement. As is often the case, I began with a quick drawing in Sketchup to get a feel for scale.

Drawing of expanded beds.
A quick drawing in Sketchup provides a sense of scale for the extended beds before any digging happens. A three-and-a-half-foot deep bed provides enough space for a row of plantings and some smaller accent planting.
Continue reading

Mid-Century Wall Unit

Mid-Century Modern wall unit
Anissa Kapsales’s take on a Poul Cadovius wall unit appeared in the August 2019 issue of Fine Woodworking Magazine. Image via

Nancy Hiller has been profiling woodworkers in a series of posts at Lost Art Press and recently interviewed Fine Woodworking’s Anissa Kapsales. I enjoyed the whole article, but what really caught my eye was the cover image from FW August 2019 featuring Kapsales’ take on a design by Poul Cadovius. It was almost enough to tempt me to pick up a recent copy of the magazine archive (mine runs through 2011) which has been on sale, but a look at showed they have the article available for free download. The design foregoes metal shelf standards (used in my favorite wall unit by Finn Juhl) in favor of drilled posts, an approach perhaps more amenable (if unforgiving) to the home shop.

Spring Plantings

A white rhododendron in full bloom.
An abundance of blooms takes time to establish. Don’t neglect the outside of your house as you plan improvements.

After a protracted winter, spring comes as a relief, oppressive gray skies giving way to the occasional blue with a riot of color budding on long-dormant plants. As things bloom, I think often of a comment I read on a forum post (probably on Old House Web, then a regular read) not long after moving into our house to the effect we shouldn’t neglect our yards as we remodel and restore our interiors. Time benefits our landscapes, its passage letting our plantings mature and giving us the opportunity to observe on what works and what doesn’t before we make radical changes.

Much of our attention has been spent on the interior of our home, but we’ve managed to work outdoor projects and plantings in around that interior work. Now it’s a pleasure to spend time outside under our covered patio, sipping drinks while admiring how hard work and the passage of time have improved our environment. Projects (eventually) end and some things can wait while you take time to plant or build outside, and you’ll appreciate having a mature landscape to relax in.

Shaker Workbench

A workbench from the Hancock Shaker Village. Note the square dog holes in line with the tail vise.

I can imagine a happy retirement volunteering in the cabinet shop at Hancock Shaker Village, if only because it would allow working at one of the shop’s massive workbenches. These benches are typical of the form, with a wide top over a storage base. A tail vise and leg vise (supplemented by a sliding dead man) provide workholding.

My personal bench is a scaled-down version of the Roubo as documented by Christopher Schwarz in an issue of Woodworking Magazine and later in Workbenches: From Design & Theory to Construction & Use. It has served me well, but there are times when I would prefer enclosed storage rather than its single open shelf.

Shaker Peg Board Revisited

Shaker peg board offers a flexible storage solution accomodating a variety of goods. Here chairs have been hung to open the floor for sweeping.

While I’ve written about Shaker peg board before, a trip to two Shaker communities (the Mt. Lebanon, NY and Hancock, MA communities are close enough to visit in a single trip, but go to the Hancock community if you only have time for one) gave me a chance to get close up with several samples of original and reproduction

Continue reading